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Israel's Supreme Court Delays Release of Demjanjuk

August 21, 1993|MICHAEL PARKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — The president of Israel's Supreme Court on Friday again delayed the release of John Demjanjuk, acquitted last month of being the Nazi death camp guard "Ivan the Terrible," giving Holocaust survivors and Nazi hunters more time to press for a second trial.

Justice Meir Shamgar said he would allow two weeks for the preparation of legal arguments justifying a new trial of Demjanjuk on other war crimes charges.

Shamgar's decision was procedural, however. He gave no real encouragement to those seeking Demjanjuk's prosecution on charges that, if he was not the sadistic "Ivan the Terrible" of the Treblinka death camp in World War II, he had been trained for a Nazi unit organized to exterminate Jews and had served at Sobibor, another death camp.

"I have decided to carry out the delay of the deportation order (which would free Demjanjuk) until the presentation of a request for a further hearing," Shamgar said.

That hearing will be to appeal the decision earlier this week by three Supreme Court judges rejecting demands for a new trial. The judges held, as had the Israeli attorney general, that another trial would violate Demjanjuk's legal right not to be prosecuted a second time on the same charges.

Under Israeli court procedures, Shamgar has up to 15 days, until Sept. 2, to decide whether to allow an appeal of that decision to a larger panel of judges. On Friday, he gave the maximum amount of time permitted so that legal arguments could be prepared and perhaps additional evidence found.

Shamgar, who wrote last month's decision overturning Demjanjuk's 1988 conviction as "Ivan the Terrible," appeared to be taking into consideration the feelings of those who survived the Holocaust that Demjanjuk was escaping prison on technicalities. He had been sentenced to death in 1988.

"This is a very historic day," said Yisrael Yehezkeli, 75, a Holocaust survivor who is among those petitioning for another trial. "It is an honor for the court that they are continuing to hold this murderer."

Noam Federman, another of the nine petitioners, who is a leader of the ultra-rightist Kach movement, said, "I am happy for every day that Demjanjuk is suffering. It is only small retribution, it's true, but it should give every Jew some pleasure.

"Even if they agree to another trial, Demjanjuk will eventually get out. But when he does there will be someone to take care of him--count on it," Federman added. Kach has threatened several times to kill Demjanjuk if he is freed.

Yoram Sheftel, Demjanjuk's Israeli attorney, protested Israel's continued imprisonment of the 73-year-old retired auto worker, despite his acquittal and the attorney general's decision not to press further charges.

"There is no precedent in Israel that someone who was acquitted by five Supreme Court judges is still sitting in prison three weeks later," Sheftel said. "Not only that, there is no indictment pending against him."

Demjanjuk, who has maintained his innocence throughout the lengthy legal proceedings, was not in the courtroom Friday. He remains at Ayalon Prison near Tel Aviv, where he has been held since the United States extradited him in 1986.

Edward Nishnic, Demjanjuk's son-in-law, expressed understanding for the new delay, though the family was disappointed Demjanjuk will not return to his Cleveland home for at least two more weeks.

"Israel is a country that rose out of the ashes of the Holocaust," Nishnic said. "There is no question that the crimes of 'Ivan the Terrible' and other alleged Nazi war criminals should be considered very seriously in this country."

In overturning Demjanjuk's conviction as "Ivan the Terrible," the Supreme Court did find evidence that he was a member of the Trawniki unit of Nazi guards who helped murder Jews and that he had served at Sobibor in eastern Poland.

But the five judges who heard the lengthy appeal and spent a year reviewing the evidence and testimony said they could not find Demjanjuk guilty on those charges, because he had not had sufficient opportunity to defend himself.

They also recommended against a new trial, saying proceedings against Demjanjuk had dragged on for too long and that new charges were also unlikely to be proved.

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